October 11, 2023 in datatech for good

The Shift From Operational to Technical Assurance in Cloud Security

Cloud computing has revolutionized how organizations store, process, and access their and users’ data. However, data security and privacy concerns have been persistent barriers for businesses considering cloud adoption. Cloud providers have traditionally relied on operational assurance to address these concerns, ensuring they will not access users’ data and encryption keys due to legal obligations. However, the evolving threat landscape demands a more robust approach – technical assurance. This article explores the importance of transitioning from operational to technical assurance, where cloud providers cannot access users’ data and keys.

Understanding Operational vs. Technical Assurance

Operational assurance has long been the foundation of cloud security. It assures customers that cloud providers adhere to strict policies preventing unauthorized access to their data. These policies are typically driven by legal obligations imposed by various data protection and privacy regulations.

While operational assurance provides comfort for organizations concerned about unauthorized access from within the provider’s workforce or third-party entities, it falls short in protecting against advanced threats such as insider attacks or sophisticated hacking attempts. Moreover, relying solely on legal obligations can be problematic as regulations vary across jurisdictions, leaving room for ambiguity.

Technical assurance takes cloud security a step further by ensuring that cloud providers lack the technical capability to access users’ data and encryption keys. This approach eliminates potential human error or malicious intent vulnerabilities within the provider's infrastructure.

For example, imagine going to a bank to rent a safebox with only two keys. With operational assurance, the bank gives you one key. It keeps the other one, leaving a note instructing employees not to use a different key to open the box, leaving room for human error or unauthorized access. In technical assurance, the bank gives you both keys to the safebox, ensuring that you have complete control over accessing your belongings.

By implementing robust encryption mechanisms and adopting zero-knowledge architectures, technical assurance ensures that even if an attacker gains unauthorized access to a provider’s systems, they would be unable to decipher or manipulate sensitive user information. This shift empowers organizations with greater control over their data while reducing reliance on trust alone. 

The Benefits of Technical Assurance Include:

1. Enhanced Data Privacy: Technical assurance provides additional protection against unauthorized access or data breaches. It assures organizations that their sensitive information remains secure even in a security incident within the cloud provider's infrastructure.

2. Compliance with Stringent Regulations: Technical assurance aligns with the increasingly stringent data protection and privacy regulations worldwide, such as the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It enables organizations to confidently comply with these regulations by ensuring only authorized parties can access their data.

3. Mitigating Insider Threats: Technical assurance minimizes the risk of insider threats by limiting access to encryption keys and user data. Employees or administrators within the cloud provider organization cannot compromise sensitive information, ensuring data integrity and confidentiality. 60% of data breaches were caused by insiders, either as inadvertent actors compromising their credentials or those with malicious intent.

4. Trust and Transparency: The shift to technical assurance fosters trust between organizations and cloud providers. With improved transparency on security measures, customers gain confidence in their choice of cloud services, leading to increased adoption rates.

As organizations increasingly rely on cloud computing for their business operations, ensuring the security and privacy of user data is paramount. While operational assurance has been the traditional approach, more is needed to combat advanced threats effectively. The transition towards technical assurance offers a more robust defense against unauthorized access, providing organizations peace of mind while complying with stringent regulations.

Platforms hosted within the IBM Cloud Hyper Protect Services suite of products and services provide maximum security, including hardware-driven cryptography that allows the platform to be protected by a dedicated security module (HSM) that meets FIPS 140-2 Level 4 certification – the only one in the industry that meets such standards. This means that even if a hacker has physical access to the data center where cloud services reside, tamper-resistant hardware keeps customer data protected, private, secure, and compliant. Such protection is especially important for startups operating in highly regulated industries such as fintech, healthtech, insurtech, and other industry verticals where compliance with industry regulations for protecting sensitive data is paramount to a startup’s future and reputation.  

By adopting technical assurance measures such as solid encryption mechanisms and zero-knowledge architectures, businesses can maintain control over their data while leveraging the benefits of cloud computing without compromising security or privacy. As this shift gains momentum in the industry, it will undoubtedly shape a more secure future for cloud computing, fostering trust between organizations and cloud providers.

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